“Moving buildings seemed to be a popular pastime in old Breckenridge.”[i]
In a community such as Breckenridge, it was not all that unusual for residents to change their minds. Along with those alternate decisions came alternate addresses. They were not necessarily in the habit of buying and selling real estate, and moving into a new house. It was that they actually just moved their house. Or their church. Or the occasional large building.
The Fireman’s Hall
The Fireman’s Hall, now gone, was once an icon in Breckenridge. Demolished in 1941 by the Work Projects Administration (or W.P.A.), it sat for several decades on Main Street, an easy landmark with its tall tower and bell. The lumber from the building was reused to create the Town Hall on the west side of Main Street. There are some photos that exist today, which include the Fireman’s Hall, but it was certainly vivid in the memories of those that called Breckenridge home.
Breckenridge was nearly destroyed in 1880, when two large forest fires threatened the town. Prior to this, firefighting was a volunteer effort, largely unorganized. The fires pushed residents into action, and it did not take long for town leaders to elect a foreman, his assistant, and to pull citizens from their daily routine to prevent a larger emergency. Part of this activity included establishing a permanent fire house, and it was built on a lot that today is a corner of the lawn that surrounds the Courthouse. Formally, they were known as the “Hook and Ladder Company, Breckenridge.”
The building, as many were, was multi-purpose. The second story of the hall included a large space designed for social purposes, and it became a popular place for balls, parties and the occasional church service. By 1886, the situation had changed, as the hall had fallen into disrepair. And on May 5 of that year, it was proposed to the Town Trustee’s that the hall be moved to Main Street.
It took until December, but the decision was finally made, and the location chosen quickly after. The building would be moved to a site, “just north of the Radigan livery stable.”[ii] They were tasked with moving the two story building three blocks; two of which were downhill, during the middle of winter. Naturally, they encountered a few delays. Grading the new site took some time, as the ground was partially frozen. The fireman had to build fires on the site to thaw the top layer enough to do the work. In less than a week, they contracted the work to someone else; given the reported ten degrees below zero temperature perhaps that was a good decision.
They raised the building two feet, and placed skids underneath the frame, and given the cold snap they were enduring, all looked to be going according to plan. They depended on the weather, and they were anxious for low winter temperatures. Why? The plan was to slide the building down the hill on the ice.[iii]
It was another two weeks before they were successful. Mother Nature can be a little particular like that, and within 48 hours, the temperatures had warmed up enough that the ice was too thin. Finally, in early January, it was said around town: “The Fireman’s Hall is coming and don’t get in the way of it or something will happen.”[iv] The entire process was projected to take less than two weeks, but the newspaper was still reporting work being done on the hall in May, six months later! Eventually, it did finally slide its way down the hill, right to Main Street between Lincoln and Washington.
In its new site, the hall continued to be one of the most popular venues in the area for social gatherings, with a capacity of around 275 people, it was the second largest meeting hall in Breckenridge. (The G.A.R. Hall was the largest, being able to accommodate 400 people.)
Lincoln and Washington
The block between Lincoln and Washington Avenues in Breckenridge is now home to boutiques, souvenir shops, and what many would claim to be Colorado’s best cookies. Stop in front of the Columbia store, and you are standing just about where the Fireman’s Hall sat, about four feet back from the road, enough to give their equipment a good start. Although the building no longer stands, if you are determined enough, you can just see the structure inching its way down the hill across the ice.